Her telephone rings. “It will be a friend of mine who wants to tell me that I’m missing my Bestuurlijk Nederlands class right now.” Claire Leifert is a second-year European Studies student. “It’s a very nice course, financed by the faculty. Its aim is to improve the political integration of foreign students at UM. It’s meant for students of the faculty council and study associations”, she says in fluent Dutch.
Je spreekt al Nederlands?
With some hesitation: “Yes ... It’s been said many times already, but it’s so strange. You live in the Netherlands but it’s almost impossible to practise the language of the country you live in. You just don’t need to speak it. I lived for a year in Poland; I did some projects there for the European Voluntary Service. I lived with an older lady and had to talk Polish all day. Then you learn the language.”
Do you feel integrated?
“UM is a microcosm: the university is not that integrated in the city. I’m integrated in UM, but not in Maastricht’s society, nor in Dutch society. I know Dutch students but my closest friends are Germans. There is a general lack of integration between students – not only between those from different countries – because we have so few contact hours (lectures, tutorials) where we can meet each other. And there are few common rooms where students would spend their free time. The places where students meet are the studentenverenigingen or associations like Concordantia, UNSA – not the university as such!”
Where do you get your hair cut?
She laughs. “I had dreadlocks until last Christmas. I was at home, near Göttingen in the centre of Germany, and thought: I want to cut my hair. It was a spontaneous action.”
Is there any famous Dutch person you admire or detest?
“There’s a lot to do about Geert Wilders. I detest his general attitude. He’s a nationalist and he’s xenophobic.”
What about Dutch writers?
She is thinking really hard. “I don’t read a lot of books in my free time. I have to read a lot for my studies. I know Anne Frank. My school was called Anne Frank. We had to read her diaries, and we visited the Achterhuis in Amsterdam where she hid during the Second World War.”
The strangest thing you’ve seen or heard since you came to the Netherlands?
“The traffic lights for bike riders. French fries with peanut sauce. I actually like it now. And it’s strange to see that the studentenverenigingen play such a big role in student life. In Germany they are old fashioned and have a right wing connotation. In Maastricht it’s different, I know, but I don’t like the ontgroening. I was never there, I never joined them. I know it’s a prejudice.”